31 May Brian: T-minus and counting
Greenfield, Iowa–What dreary weather. Brisk winds carry a fine mist through the air, remnants of soaking rains earlier in the week. The ground is a soggy mess, and muddy boots and shoes track everywhere we go. Hoodies and heavy coats are required as we plan and pack for our imminent departure for Oklahoma. With morning temperatures in the mid-40s we are feeling very confused. Our gloveless fingers keep going numb from the cold, the furnace is running in the house, and every time we start the pickup the heated seats automatically come on. Are we really just a few short days away from triple-digit temperatures and hot, dry harvest winds in our hair?
The irony of all this wet weather is not lost on us as we get ready to departure for Thomas, Oklahoma. The same storm system that has soaked us here in Iowa stretched all the way down South. With over 90% of Cotton County classified in the “extreme drought” category, Thomas farmers are thrilled to receive this desperately needed moisture. However, for most of the winter wheat crop it’s too little too late. The “prepare for the worst, hope for the best” sentiment seems prevalent across most of western Oklahoma where every county is rated in a serious drought category.
The continuous cool, wet weather has been a big stressor here in Iowa. David hasn’t had much better luck in Minnesota. Fieldwork got off to such a late start in both locations that the number of days left have only allowed for the bare minimum of work. The usual spring tasks of fixing washouts, cutting trees in fence lines and installing underground drainage tile largely went unperformed. Most workdays in the tractor have stretched well into the night. I’ve found myself after 3 a.m. turning the key off to head home for some sleep more times than I’d like to remember. Production of our new high-speed planter ordered 11 months previously continued to be plagued by assembly delays thanks to limited availability of many components. Just when it appeared it may not be delivered in time for this planting season we were relived to be notified of its shipment from the factory.
Little did we know just how critical this would be. With the ability to travel up to twice the speed over a traditional design, this high-speed planter shaved days off the time needed to put our crop in the ground. Just when it looked impossible to finished planting before we would have to be in Oklahoma, technology saved the day. All those late nights paid off, and the last field of soybeans was planted just hours before this multi-day rain arrived and saturated the ground. Sometimes only a few hours makes all the difference, and had we not finished before this rain we would have been forced to strategize on sending someone back home to finished planting. Thankfully that’s one enormous headache we don’t have to deal with.
So now our attention turns to these final few crazy days here at home. Organization is the key to getting everything done. Brenda’s famous multi-page 500-point checklist has made its appearance, and the four Hamer boys completed their last day of school. Vernelle’s kitchen is filled with boxes of pots and pans, and bags of groceries pile up as she works to migrate into the trailer house. Her master book of “things to bring” keeps her on track, but I’d be lying if I said the men were as organized. Piles of tools and tires lay on the ground, waiting to be loaded in the the trucks. Everything is a muddy mess, and some tasks like loading the combine onto the trailer will be delayed until the last minute so the ground can dry up as much as possible.
Getting the combine ready this year has taken a little extra time. With the availability of new combines severely constrained due to production delays related to component availability (just like our planter), it proved impossible to order a new machine and have it delivered in time for wheat harvest. With an enormous amount of effort our John Deere surprisingly found an unsold unit headed to Kansas and intercepted it before being shipped from the factory. We are fortunate to find a machine configured nearly exactly how we would have custom ordered it, but there are a few options missing. Thankfully those items are offered as field-installed kits. It’s taken a notable amount of time to install them all, and time is in limited supply right now. Mounting the radio, tool boxes, extra fire extinguishers and all the other modifications we do is something usually done earlier in the spring, but we feel fortunate to even be able to take delivery of a new combine. The 2022 model year marks John Deere’s 75th anniversary of self-propelled combines, and each machine comes with a commemorative decal on the side. Having owned a 50th anniversary edition machine years ago it’s a fun addition to ownership this year, reminding us just how long we have been on the harvest run.
The next few days can’t go buy fast enough. The crew is anxious to put all the stress of leaving behind us and find ourselves kicking around the red dirt of Oklahoma. Somehow it always comes together at the last minute, but sometimes it seems impossible. But if there is one thing we have learned in 40 years of harvesting it’s that God always makes a way to accomplish the tasks set before us, and this year will be no different. That said, I’m just ready to get into the operator’s seat and harvest wheat. I’m sure you are ready to read all about it, too. The wait is almost over, so start the countdown. T-minus 10, 9, 8, …
Brian Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All Aboard Wheat Harvest is brought to you by ITC Holdings, CASE IH, Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children, US Custom Harvesters Inc., Unverferth Mfg. Co. Inc., Lumivia CPL by Corteva Agriscience, Kramer Seed Farms, and High Plains Journal.